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Thursday (Joe Mauer at first base) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Professional baseball, Twins fans Updated: July 7, 2011 - 9:52 AM

With Joe Mauer's scheduled debut at first base -- the first time he has played a field position other than catcher in the Major Leagues -- set for tonight, he is the proverbial talk of the town. As such, we thought we would offer some historical perspective in terms of how some of the all-time great catchers ended up splitting (or not splitting) duties at various other positions in their careers. Here is a look at career breakdowns for those catches and Mauer. We tried to pick players who -- like Mauer -- were also valued as hitters and not just defensive experts, thus making them theoretically more likely to see action at other positions. These include all games in which players appeared, excluding pinch-hitting duties but including DH duties. These also include breakdowns specifically for the season in which the players were 28, Mauer's age now. All numbers taken from Baseball Reference.

Johnny Bench: 1,693 games at catcher; 190 at 3B; 120 at 1B; 55 in RF; 52 in LF; 2 in CF for a total of 419 games at a position other than catcher. Total percentage of games at catcher: 80.2. Performance at age 28 in 1976: 122 games at catcher, 4 in LF.

Yogi Berra: 1,379 games at catcher; 132 in LF; 53 in RF; 1 at 1B; 1 at 3B for a total of 187 at a position other than catcher. Total percentage of games at catcher: 88.1. Performance at age 28 in 1953: 123 games at catcher, none anywhere else.

Carlton Fisk: 2,157 games at catcher; 165 at DH; 40 in LF; 21 at 1B; 2 at 3B for a total of 228 games at a position other than catcher. Total percentage of games at catcher: 90.4. Performance at age 28 In 1976, age 28: 131 at catcher, 1 at DH.

Gary Carter: 2,019 games at catcher; 123 in RF; 68 at 1B; 5 in LF; 2 at 3B for a total of 198 games at a position other than catcher. Total percentage of games at catcher: 91.1. … Performance at age 28 in 1982, age 28: 153 games at catcher (!), none anywhere else.

Ivan Rodriguez: 2,375 at catcher; 57 at DH; 7 at 1B; 1 at 2B for a total of 65 games at a position other than catcher. Total percentage of games at catcher: 97.3. Performance at age 28 in 2000: 84 games at catcher, 1 at DH.

Mike Piazza: 1,611 at catcher; 122 at DH; 69 at 1B for a total of 191 games at a position other than catcher. Total percentage of games at catcher: 89.4.  Performance at age 28 in 1997: 139 games at catcher, 7 at DH.

Joe Mauer (through Wednesday): 721 at catcher; 109 at DH. Total percentage of games at catcher: 86.9. Performance (to-date) at age 28 in 2011: 22 games at catcher, 3 at DH.

Overall thoughts: Of the catchers looked at, most weren't yet transitioning to occasional work at other positions by the time they were Mauer's age. Only Bench was playing left field; the others were either exclusively catching or were mixing in a little DH work. Mauer also has the second-lowest percentage of career games at catcher (higher than only Bench) of the players looked at. ... That said, the DH is a game-changer. Every other player looked at either played in the NL for at least part of his career or played part or all of his career before the DH was instituted. If Mauer has played virtually all his games (excluding interleague games in NL parks) with the ability to DH. If that wasn't an option, you might see his catching percentage jump a few points. Or we might have seen a transition to a backup field position sooner than tonight. If we accept 85-90 percent of overall games spent at catcher as a pretty good benchmark for Mauer to hit going forward, and we guessed he could play 150 games in a season, that would maybe put him at catcher for 130 games, DH for another 15 and first base for 5 (or some combination of the last two)? Doesn't sound too bad, does it?

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